Stephanie Wear, Nature Conservancy marine scientist
By Nicole Levins
What are some of the things you think about when you hear the words “coral reef”?
Maybe the threats faced by these fragile ecosystems cross your mind: climate change, ocean acidification and unsustainable fishing practices. Or maybe, if you’re more of a “glass-half-full” type, you visualize the happy images: starfish and sea urchins, clownfish and parrotfish, sea turtles and giant clams. But you probably don’t think about medicine.
It’s true — these colorful and sometimes crazy-looking underwater structures host a lot more than just cool sea creatures. Coral reefs could hold the cures for some of the human race’s most common — and most serious — ailments.
By protecting these “rainforests of the sea,” The Nature Conservancy is ensuring that coral reefs will be around — and healthy enough — to facilitate future medicinal discoveries.
Find out how you can help by adopting a coral reef today.
Scientists have already developed many medical treatments from resources found in the world’s oceans, For instance:
And with just a few more years of research, it seems likely that scientists will uncover even more therapeutic secrets in the sea:
In fact, one coral reef ecologist says that we’re 300 to 400 times more likely to find new drugs in the oceans than on land.
Climate change is already affecting the health of coral ecosystems. Microbial communities — where many new drugs could likely be found — are especially susceptible to these changes, and some are already beginning to decline or migrate.
“An estimated 95 percent of the world’s oceans remain unexplored, so it’s possible that we might lose significant marine organisms without ever knowing they existed in the first place,” explains Stephanie Wear, a marine scientist on the Conservancy’s Global Marine Team. “A devastating loss of biodiversity could mean that fewer species will be around for future medicinal research and biomedical studies.”
By protecting marine environments through the creation of marine protected areas and the development of adaptation strategies, the Conservancy is safeguarding marine biodiversity. People and nature are already benefitting in so many ways from these marine protected areas. Just imagine what medical benefits may still lay undiscovered beneath the sea.
February 18, 2011
Nicole Levins is a media coordinator for The Nature Conservancy.